Lawmakers offer anti-gay rewrite to ‘religious freedom’ bill

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UPDATE | Georgia lawmakers sweeping anti-gay bill

Georgia lawmakers on Wednesday offered a surprising response to a national backlash over a “religious freedom” bill: A substitute that still allows for discrimination against LGBT people. 

The rewrite is a response to House Bill 757, which was hijacked by the Senate on Feb. 19 and morphed with anti-gay legislation that has since been heavily criticized by faith leaders, business titans and progressive activists for allowing anti-LGBT discrimination. 

State leaders – including Gov. Nathan Deal and House Speaker David Ralston (photo) – took notice and pledged to find a compromise that doesn't allow LGBT discrimination. 

But the legislation offered on Wednesday does just that. Via the AJC:

The proposed amendment to HB 757, a copy of which was obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, says no pastor can be forced to perform a same-sex wedding ceremony. It also says no individual can be forced to attend one.

The bill would protect faith-based organizations from having to rent or allow its facility to be used for an event it finds “objectionable.”

These organizations, which include churches, religious schools or associations, would not be required to provide social, educational or charitable services “that violate such faith-based organization’s sincerely held religious belief.” However, the amendment says government can enforce the terms of a grant, contract or other agreement.

Faith-based organizations also could not be forced to hire or retain an employee whose “religious beliefs or practices or lack of either are not in accord with the faith-based organization’s sincerely held religious belief.”

Finally, it includes much of the language found federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which requires government to prove a “compelling governmental interest” before it interferes with a person’s exercise of religion.

However, the proposed amendment adds that it cannot be used to allow “discrimination on any grounds prohibited by federal or state law.”

Except that state and federal law does not protect LGBT people. And when state lawmakers had the chance to add LGBT people to a civil rights bill earlier this year, they voted it down. When a bill that protectedt state employees was expanded to protect LGBT ones too, the sponsor killed it.

A vote on the bill could come as soon as Wednesday afternoon.

LGBT activists quickly called foul on the legislative rewrite. Georgie Unites Against Discrimination said in an eblast to supporters that the new bill opens the door to discrimination.

The bill (HB 757) in its current draft would legalize discrimination against same-sex and unmarried couples and could be used as justification to deny potentially life-saving services at religiously affiliated hospitals, domestic violence centers and homeless shelters.

The House could move to introduce “compromise” language. But we’ve said it once and we’ll say it again—there frankly is no compromise on discrimination. Either you’re for it, or you’re against it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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